Qatar's Nasser Saleh al Attiyah and French co-driver Matthieu Baumel romped to an emphatic victory on the opening 358.15km desert stage of the Manateq Qatar Cross-Country Rally on Thursday.
The day's stage started southwest of Losail and wound its way through the remote western wastelands before crossing the bottom of the country to finish near Sealine in the south. The Toyota Hilux driver began the day positioned eighth on the road, but he delivered another polished performance to extend his overall advantage in the fourth round of the FIA World Cup to 16min 07sec.
"It was a good job today, but it was a very difficult stage and not easy for the navigation. We lose a little bit of time searching for the road and we had one flat tyre, but I am quite happy to be here. Many people made mistakes today. Tomorrow is another day and we try to do our best," al Attiyah said.
Poland's Jakub Przygonski lost some time in the middle of the stage with his own navigational issues, but the X Raid MINI driver hit back over the closing kilometres to pull clear of fellow countryman Aron Domzala to snatch the second quickest time and move up to a similar position in the standings.
"We are happy for second position but we are not so happy with the rhythm today," said Przygonski."The speed was okay but we had a lot of navigation mistakes and we lost a lot of time on this, maybe 12 or 14 minutes. This is when Aron (Domzala) catch us. But we are still in the game and the car is perfect. We need to focus on the next days and not make any mistakes."
Qatar's Adel Abdulla increased his lead in the T2 category for series production cross-country vehicles after Saudi Arabian championship rival Ahmed Shegawi suffered technical problems before PC2. The QMMF and Ooredoo-backed Nissan Patrol driver also held an impressive 10th overall and a T2 lead of 47min 15sec at the end of the day.
Frenchman Claude Fournier romped to the T3 stage win in his Polaris RZR 1000 and moved up to an impressive eighth in the overall rankings, after series rival Jos` Luis Pena Campo of Spain lost time early on and both Italy's Michele Cinotto and Spaniard Santiago Navarro were delayed.
The Qatar debut of Toyota GAZOO Racing South Africa's Giniel de Villiers came to a premature and painful halt when co-driver Robert Howie complained of back pain shortly after a heavy landing in a deep hole shortly before the first passage control. De Villiers took the sensible decision to retire the Toyota.
De Villiers said:"It was at the end of a shot and I guess there should have been a couple of cautions in the road book. I braked hard but, unfortunately, Rob injured his back and was in a lot of pain. I decided to stop. His health is more important. There is nothing wrong with the car. I wait to see if he is okay after the medical checks.
"Other than that, the navigation is really tricky and I don't like the system of not being able to go back if you miss a waypoint. We missed a waypoint and got the new one before we knew that we had missed the previous one. It's not a good system at all. It makes it impossible on the navigation side."
Polish Orlen Team rider Maciej Giemza maintained a level head and survived the rigours of navigating alone from the front to card a stage time of 5hrs 47min 56sec on the sole motorcycle. Russian Alexsandr Maksimov was a comfortable leader of the quad category after Dutch rival Kees Koolen stopped with fuel pump problems on the day's stage and lost a lot of time.
The difficulty of the stage decimated the field running in the Manateq Qatar National Baja and T2 leader Adel Abdulla who is eligible for both rallies stormed to the top of the leader board in his TOK Sport Nissan Patrol Y62.
Despite losing over an hour, Al Shegawi (Toyota) held fifth place behind the Qatari, second-placed Kuwait's Thuwaini Al-Nahel (Polaris) and the Qatari duo of Mohammed al Meer (Nissan) and Sheikh Hamed bin Eid al Thani (Nissan).
Overnight leader Abdulaziz al Bsheyer, Nayef al Nasr, Ahmed Allouh and Mohammed al Attiyah all suffered their own fair share of mechanical issues and delays on the treacherous special.
Today competitors tackle another mammoth loop stage across Qatar. The 340.54km selective section begins to the north of Losail and passes around the northern extremities of the country before cutting across the uppermost deserts to run down the western coast to finish off the Al Kharsaah Road, west of Doha.
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